Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Helplessness, Hospitals and the Glorious Transplant

Helpless. That is the word that comes to mind when I think of the days I spent next to my mother’s bedside at the Mayo Clinic this time two years ago.

I remember sitting there with my mom holding her hand, watching the monitors and listening to the hum of the machines and oxygen because her own lungs could no longer keep her alive. I recounted the day only weeks before when we were told that she would need a double lung transplant to live. It was her only hope.  Then as her health rapidly deteriorated she was put in the hospital and we waited.

There was nothing to do but wait.

We waited for the perfect set of lungs to come available because not just any would do. They had to be perfect: perfectly healthy, her perfect blood type, the perfect size for her frail body and within just a few hours of the hospital because time was of the essence.

The roller coaster of emotions of those waiting for a transplant and their families is enough to send anyone into a tail spin. Do you grieve because these are your last days with your loved one? Do you remain hopeful each time the doctor walks in that they will bring good news that a donor has been found? And how do you even bear the thought of the donor and their family? I wondered a lot about who they might be, if they themselves were a mother or a daughter and how horrible the loss would be for that family. What a gift they would be giving to our family, a gift of life that could never be repaid.

As much as we as her family loved her, there was nothing we could do.
As amazing as the doctors, nurses and hospital were, there was nothing they could do.
As much as my mom desperately wanted to live, there was nothing she could do.

We were helpless. We needed a transplant. We were totally dependent on a lung donor coming available.

She needed healthy lung for her diseased ones, she needed the perfect match. And, as horrible and inexplicable as it was, she needed someone to lose their life so that she could gain hers.

In the middle of that horrible reality I was reminded that this is how the gospel described me, how helpless and desperate I am without Jesus. The beauty of the gospel stood steady in the midst of it all as I recalled this verse, “For while we were still helpless at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.”

She was helpless. We in our sins are helpless and cannot save ourselves.

She only had sick, diseased lungs. We have sick, sinful hearts.

She needed new, perfect lungs to save her. We need a new heart and perfect righteousness from Jesus to make us right with God.

She needed a perfect match. We need Jesus who became like us so he could die in our place.

She needed someone close by. We need Jesus who left the glories of heaven to not only come near to us but to bring us near to our God.

Someone would have to die so that she could live. Someone has to die to pay for our sins and Jesus has done that, taking our place and giving us his righteousness so that we could live eternally.

As wonderful and exciting and joyful as it would have been if my mother had been given new lungs in this life, it fails to compare to the glorious realities of the gospel.

With the gospel there is no waiting in a hospital room fighting for your life, helpless and just praying that you might live.

No. We have a ready Savior- Jesus has paid it all and is ever ready to save those who call out to him in faith.

With the gospel there is no anonymous donor whose accidental death brings life.

No. We have a willing, loving, sacrificial Savior. Jesus went to the cross willingly and, with love in his heart and a mission in his mind, saved us to the uttermost.

With the gospel there is no 5 year life expectancy that comes with a lung transplant.

No, no, no. We are given ETERNAL life in our Savior who loves us more than we will ever know.

That call never came for my mom and two years ago today she stepped into eternity. This day would overwhelm me were it not for the transplant that happened almost a year and half before her diagnosis.

One day she called me and said, “I want you to know that if I ever die that I am in heaven.” After many talks over the years with her, I had been unsure of where her faith lay. With a deep breath, I began to prayerfully walk through the gospel with her again- how we are all sinners who need Jesus to die for our sins in our place so that we can be forgiven and live eternally in heaven. At the end there were no disputes or assertions of how she was a good person as before, she simply said I believe that. And a transplant happened that day that nothing on earth could ever undo, no disease or death could ever touch. 

My mom was a quiet person and though I saw her begin to openly talk about the Lord I am not sure that she ever shared this with many people. So today I tell you her story as a way of honoring her and remembering her. I am certain she would proclaim it from the rooftops herself were it possible.

If you do not know the Lord, I pray that He would open your eyes to how helpless you are in your sin. But also I pray that he would show you Himself. That He is the perfect, loving Savior who came and laid down his life to save you in your helplessness because you cannot save yourself. Won’t you trust him today and ask him to do that?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Kindergarten, College and the Keeper

I am a pool hawk.

Of course going to the pool with multiple small children will do that to you. 

During our vacation this summer I was alone with three of them at the pool. After a few days in the water, the older ones were getting more comfortable in the pool and I had relaxed… almost.  I sat on the side of the pool blowing up a float for my 2 year old while he played in the shallow area. It was only a few feet deep so my focus was on the older two as they swam. 

As the float got bigger I would look up every few minutes to make sure everyone was still up and kicking. Everything was fine until I realized I could not see my 2 year old. My heart was racing as I took two huge mama leaps to where he had been playing and found him flailing in the few feet of water unable to get his footing. I pulled him quickly to his feet and made sure he was ok. 

He had fallen behind a big boat in the toddler area of the pool, out of the view of the lifeguard. My mind filled with the what ifs. What if I had not been there…. What if I had not seen him right away….

Believing upon what is true, I was just thankful that I had been there and tried not to think about what might have happened if I weren’t while committing myself to be extra vigilant for the rest of our trip.

Only a few days after we came home, a knock on the door from a neighbor reminded me that I cannot depend upon myself alone to protect my children. My trust ultimately must be in the Lord. A stray arrow had shot into the yard where my children were playing only minutes earlier. Having come in the house because of a short summer rain shower, they were not out there as the arrow spanned the length of our yard and landed 2 inches deep in our wooden fence. Our neighbors were upset and knew what could have happened, promising to move the target. I however was taken aback and remembered I simply cannot be everywhere to protect my children. 

But my God, he never sleeps or slumbers. 

He is always there watching over them, keeping them.

Immediately my mind was filled with Psalm 121. I had spent some time studying it recently as I wrote about the Lord being our helper from the first few verses. But I remembered the rest of the Psalm and that the word “keep”, translated keep, protect and guard, is repeated 6 times. 

It was just I needed to remember as I fought off the motherly desire to keep my kids in our house forever and ever. AMEN. And AMEN.

He is watching over me and keeping me. He is watching over them and keeping them.

This is a tough week for a lot of mamas, as with joy and sadness, many of our little babies are not babies anymore. They let go of our hands and walk out into the world.

They head off by themselves for their first golf lesson, no longer timid and afraid.

They head off to kindergarten, excited about a new chapter of their lives. 

They head off to college, no longer under your watchful love and care.

They get married and move away, starting a new family. 

They follow the Lord’s call on their lives to move around the world for the sake of the gospel.

With mixed emotions, we mamas sit by and watch them walk away. So proud, so excited for them and yet wanting to run and pull them back and keep them forever under our wings. 

I won’t pretend these moments are easy for any of us, but I do hope in the midst of them that Psalm 121 rings in your heart. For years this Psalm, called the Traveler's Song by the Scottish, was sung and prayed as many departed on long journeys. 

As our children travel off, whether down the road, to another state or across the world, I pray these promises of God's keeping would sink deep into your heart and hold you tight as you let go.

Psalm 121
I will lift my eyes to the mountains, from where shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber or sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul.
He will guard your going out and coming in from this time forth and forever.

There is so much to say about this Psalm but Charles Spurgeon says it best:
"What a glorious title is in the Hebrew -- "The keeper of Israel," and how delightful to think that no form of unconsciousness ever steals over him, neither the deep slumber nor the lighter sleep. He will never suffer the house to be broken up by the silent thief; he is ever on the watch, and speedily perceives every intruder…. The word "keepeth" is also full of meaning: he keeps us as a rich man keeps his treasures, as a captain keeps a city with a garrison, as a royal guard keeps his monarch's head…. Happy are the pilgrims to whom this psalm is a safe conduct; they may journey all the way to the celestial city without fear." (The Treasury of David Psalm 121:4)

So as our little children(and the not so little ones) let go and walk wherever the Lord may lead them, let us again entrust them to the Lord as we dwell upon this Psalm and the One who keeps them.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Looking to the hills when you want to RUN for them....

“It seems like SOMEONE always wants SOMETHING from me ALL the time,” exclaimed the mother of 5 over the phone. “Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that I just want to run for the hills….”

As a new pastor’s wife at the time, I stared out the window into our backyard wishing I had some words of wisdom to impart. But the truth was that I felt the same way with only 2 small children. I listened and promised to pray for her, but as I hung up the phone I felt my own discouragement settle in.

Only days earlier, in a moment of bitter tears and discouragement over my parenting failures, the darkness whispered, “You should run. JUST LEAVE. Your kids would be better off without you.”  

Lies. Lies. LIES. But in that moment I saw why moms want to run. And why some do…. 

By the grace of God, I was able to think on what was TRUE in that moment. “No mom” is NOT better than an imperfect mom. And truly what lay behind that dark deception was not really concern for the well fare of my children, but the need to humbly accept my own weaknesses and failures and trust the Lord- not only to forgive them but also to be bigger than them. The Lord knows I am but dust: I will fail many times over but he has called me to faithfulness in spite of it. Leaving is exactly what Satan would want me to do. RUN. 

But the question becomes how do we stay when we want to run like the wind? How do we not lose it while we feel like we are losing our minds? What do we do when we feel we are failing so miserably that falling off the face of the earth is better than facing our children?

One day I was ready to run. Bickering children, a failed attempt at dinner, piled up laundry, unpaid bills and the pressures of life had mounted up so high I could not see anything else. Yet it was then that I was reminded not to run for the hills but to LOOK to them as the Lord brought this to mind.

I lift my eyes to the hills where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2

These verses have become my meditation in those moments when I feel the waters rising and I want to make a break for it to. They have been my life raft when the cares of this world threaten to drown me.

This beautiful psalm was written as a song of ascent, sung as the people of Israel made their way up to Jerusalem. The journey was difficult and fraught with many dangers along the way. Fear and anxiety could easily fill their hearts as they considered them all- robbers and mobs hiding in the hills just to name a few. But there was also exhaustion as they surveyed those hills before them

Between fears and fatigue, the psalmist was in need of divine help to finish the journey before him. He looked to the hills but his help did not come from them. His help came from the One who created those very hills he was climbing- the same arduous ones he had to conquer to reach the end of his journey: the Maker of heaven and earth. 

“The psalmist gives strong testimony, My help comes from the Lord. The psalmist affirms all the dimensions of help that he needs- physical, emotional, and spiritual. He is not looking to the mountains for his help nor to anything or anyone dwelling on these hills. Rather, he looks to the Maker of the mountains-God himself- for this assistance.”- Steve Lawson

When the psalmist looked at the hills, he saw it all: the dangers, the fears, the difficulties and exhaustion. Yet he also saw and, in the same breath, acknowledged from where his help will come. He acknowledged Him as the Maker of those hills, as the One who is sovereign over all the cares they will bring, and as the One who grant him help and strength for everything he faces.

For me in my moments of fear and weariness, it is easy to get stuck sitting on a rock of discouragement with the hills of my journey looming large before me. Never looking beyond them to acknowledge their Maker. 

But to get up off that rock, I must look to HIM.

He is sovereign over every challenge of loving and caring for my home even when I feel overwhelmed and ready to break. The sovereign Creator and Sustainer of my life is in control of every hill(big or small) that I encounter- every drink spilled, temper tantrum thrown, wayward child gone stray, family member passed on to eternity who is grieved in the middle of it all.

He is forgiving when I fail again and again. My gracious Redeemer is covering every miserable mothering moment- every raised voice, impatient correction, selfish thought, missed opportunity to love and to show them the way to a Perfect Savior. 

Not only does he forgive my failure and grant me grace, not only does he sovereignly place everything into my life that I face, but he is my help when I feel like I cannot go on.

He is the one who called me on this journey to seek him and he will give me help for every step along the way. These hills are not going away, but they are not going to because they serve a purpose much greater than pushing me over the edge. They are part of the journey meant to refine and shape me into the likeness of Christ- to let go of my independence and seek the Lord for his help, his hope and his strength. 

With every step up the mountain I see more of Him: his goodness in the midst of my sin, his grace in the midst of my guilt, his strength in the midst of my weakness, his help in the midst of my need, his assurance in the midst of my doubt, his calm in the midst of my storm.

But in our culture of “just do it” and “you can do anything” (forgetting that is true only through Christ who gives us strength), so often as believers, when we find ourselves at the end of our rope, we feel as though we have failed (so NOT true. See 2 Corinthians 8-10). 

We call a friend. We heap on more guilt thinking should be able to make it through. We sit on our rock and bemoan the mountains we don’t have the strength to climb. We do anything, but ask for help from the only One who can give it.

What an example scripture sets for us in the Psalms with over 30 declarations of the need for God's help in that book alone. We must learn to call out to him for help as the psalmists did over and over, remembering God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

Years ago as a young mom I read from a story that has remained with me ever since. It is one of my favorite real life mama-gonna-lose-her mind illustrations of a woman who knew how to seek the Lord as the mountains loomed and were far too tall for her to climb alone.

I remember a night when I was asked to help get dinner on the table. Dad was out of town, and Mom, seven months pregnant and caring for five children ages two to nine, was serving my most-hated meal -- Black eyed peas and Spam…. I complained loudly about the dinner, and soon Mom disappeared from the kitchen. I called to find her and got no answer…. Something drew me to the basement, and I found her at last in the furnace room. It was completely dark and she was crying. Seeing her sever-year-old standing there in fear, she wiped her eyes and told me she needed to come pray for more strength. That early image of Mom as intercessor and supplicant fills my mind and memory now with its poignancy and truth. Instead of shouting in anger at my childish insensitivity, she withdrew to call on more reserves from her heavenly Father, abundantly available to her for the asking. (2 Corinthians 9:8)*

So I am praying for you today that when you grow weary, instead of running to the hills, you will look to the hills and remember their Maker. Let us then RUN.... but to our Sovereign, Forgiving, ever-ready-to-help God, trusting that he will provide the help and grace for every mountain we must climb on our journey to Him.

*quoted from Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Gifts, Jane Eyre and Our Greatest Work

Sometimes blog posts just have to wait.

I stared at the list on the whiteboard hanging below our family calendar. The long list spanned everything from Anna-Kate's Story to Tried and True Recipes to How (not) to Do It All. Each of them were blog posts that I had been meaning to work on for it seemed forever. 

As I heard the cries from the boys' room, I knew it was not happening that day. There was still packing to do for our trip with children to be loved along the way. Glancing up at our packed family calendar, it was clear that it could be weeks before I could devote some time to the writing that was in my head.

There was a time when moments like that would frustrate me.

In those days somewhere in my head I felt like my life had been put on hold. (Note that sneaky word there: "my" life. Another blog post for another day.) My gifts seemed to be sitting on the shelf while I wiped noses, changed countless myriads of diapers and taught simple things like don't throw your food at your brother. 

There was a time when I had no sense of the eternal work I was accomplishing: that every nose wiped, diaper changed and correction given was the Lord using me to raise little people to know and love him and that my children, given to me by the Lord, were way more important than any gifts I thought I had.

But as Jane Eyre once said, “They will keep.”
"But you comprehend me?" he said. "It is a village school: your scholars will be only poor girls—cottagers' children—at the best, farmers' daughters. Knitting, sewing, reading, writing, ciphering, will be all you will have to teach. What will you do with your accomplishments? What, with the largest portion of your mind—sentiments—tastes?"
Jane Eyre’s reply…."Save them till they are wanted. They will keep."

Yes, they will keep.

I have come to realize that the Lord knows my gifts, my talents, my strengths- he gave them to me after all. No matter where you are in life, He knows yours as well. They are gifts the Lord has given us for HIS glory and he will not waste them. 

I believe one day after this season has passed we will go to dust them off and find they are still there. And, as the Lord prepared David in his shepherding days, the Lord has used these days to refine our gifts in secret. Gifts that will be seasoned with a mature heart of compassion, humility and selfless love learned in the many sleepless nights and long days of the little years. Gifts that will be ready to be used for the sake of others to the glory of the One who gave them. Just like he had planned all along.

He knows our gifts that might be hidden away for a time. We must have the same willing, humble heart, trusting the Lord that they will keep and he will use them in HIS way and in HIS time. 

These days I am content. He has given me my task for now. And it is a worthy one. One that has no short cuts or easy outs. One that I would suggests requires a greater diligence and attention than the greatest novel ever written.

Those gifts and goals I once prized now pale in comparison to the great investment of my life in the daily, though at times monotonous, labor of caring for my family and home. This has truly become my greatest work and most worthy goal, a godly home and legacy of faithfulness that is being built each day brick by brick mostly without even realizing and seen only with the eyes of faith.

So when you are tempted to believe something lesser about the task before you, join me in praying for that same willingness of heart found in Jane Eyre’s character and in the pages of scripture.

"Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ who you serve." Colossians 3:23-24

One day maybe I will write that book. Or maybe I will just actually get to a couple of those blog post that I have been meaning to write. Who knows?

What I do know is that I want to be faithful in the most important gifts that he has give me of being a wife and mother to four precious gifts from him. Those are the gifts that I never want to put on the shelf for the sake of a lesser calling.

So, if I am silent for awhile occasionally, you can be sure my whiteboard is probably full, the family calendar even fuller, but my heart is the fullest as I love these years of building with eyes of faith the greatest work that the Lord could ever give me to do.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Nails, Wedding Days and Purposeful Pegs {repost}

Nails, nails, nails… for days.

When I first decided to redo part of our basement, I really had no idea what it would entail. Up until the day I began to transform the dreary, cold area into a warm, cozy space, it had been storage to a hodgepodge of lawn tools, Christmas decorations, car wash paraphernalia and anything else that could not go anywhere else. And I think every resident over the last 50 years had nailed at least 100 nails each into the bare wood support beam that lined the ceiling.

Ok. That might be bit of an exaggeration but I don't think you could have told me any different as I stood on that ladder surveying my task.

32 old, rusty nails scattered everywhere. But I was determined that Every. Single. One. Would be gone. Working hard in those precious nap time moments, I pulled, I banged, rested and stared at the ones left, then pulled and banged some more… and finally, after three days, even those last few huge, deep nails gave way.

As I wrestled with those nails, I thought about how they had been nailed in with no real purpose or, at least, no lasting purpose. I certainly did not know why the beam was riddled with random nails that, over the last five years, we had never once used.

As I labored I was surrounded also by the thoughts and prayers that go into a new school year, my first homeschooling year. My mind mulled over the classical education idea of pegs in the grammar stage. The idea of teaching and drilling things you want your children to remember so that later you can build upon them. And here, among my thoughts and hopes of intentionally pouring into my children, were these anything-but-intentional nails.

And in those moments I determined, with all the determination to remove those pointless nails and more, to be intentional with my children. And not so much just in teaching them, but in everything. To purposefully, intentionally teach them things that I want them to remember for life. I did not want my children to look back over their life and see a bunch of useless nails but instead purposeful pegs they can hang their life on. 

Isn’t that part of what Deuteronomy is getting at when it tells the parents to know the Word and to talk of it when they sit, when rise and when they walk by the way? While it should flow from us easily and permeate all of our life, the command in scripture makes it clear that we are to be intentional as well.

Recently, my ever-encouraging God gave me a glimpse of the fruit of this in an overheard heart to heart conversation between Rachel and Sam the other night:

Sam: "Rachel, when we grow up, I am going to marry you."
Rachel: "No, Sam. You can’t marry me because you’re my
brother. But when you grow up, I hope… I hope… I hope you marry a girl who
loves Jesus more than anything in the whole world."

With joy inexpressible, I remembered the many, many times I had told Rachel to marry a man who loves Jesus more than anything. As she paused, I could almost see her mind working, searching, remembering those conversations. One day we will talk about what it means to marry that kind of man in great detail but for now it is enough. I pray that one day she will walk down that aisle to a single-minded, Jesus-loving young man and I will wipe away tears of joy... that those intentional words will, by God’s grace, have proven to be a peg that she could hang her life upon.

Those nails, I owe those nails a debt for the hours it gave me to ponder their uselessness and how I did not want my parenting to be numbered with them. 

For in those quiet moments of struggling to pull out carelessly nailed in pegs, I found what I wanted my mothering to look like. And if there were one word to define my mothering, next to
gospel-drenched, then I hope it would be intentional. Intentional in my instruction in school, as we drill 9+9= 18 for the 50th time, and intentional in showing them what it means to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind.

I kept those nails, all 32 of them, as a reminder for my heart. Be intentional.

So pray for me as I hammer. I hope, if this is new to you, that you have been encouraged to dust off your hammer hidden deep in that closet somewhere. Or, if you are laboring, with your hammer in hand and nails ever ready, that you don’t grow weary in doing good for in due time we will
reap a harvest. Smile at the future with me and pound away hard for the glory of God.